Randlords and figurations: an Eliasian study of social change and South Africa.
This study investigates the role that the Randlords, a group of mining magnates with wide-ranging concerns operating in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, played in social change in South Africa. The approach taken is that of Norbert Elias’s process sociology, explored in Chapter 1. This places a particular emphasis on figurations, evolving groups of interdependent people linked by some shared purpose with memberships that change over time, as well as on sociogenesis, his term for the processual and longitudinal aspects of social change. There is no sufficient account of an Eliasian research methodology, and Chapter 2 develops an approach which puts his methodological thinking to work in my research practice. Built into this are ideas about ‘documents of life’ and in particular letters and how to hone in on the figurational aspects of letter-writing and exchanges as a key means of opening up the detailed processes at work. Chapter 3 puts these ideas into practice regarding the letters of one of the Randlords, George Farrar, and spells out the detailed elements of my methodology in doing so. This analysis indicates that there were overlapping associations and figurations of people, and individuals could be part of a number of figurations with varying degrees of commitment and centrality. In addition, there were significant differences between Randlords regarding where their larger goals and aspirations lay, such that they were not a homogenous group. It also shows there was a strong figurational effect around Alfred Milner, in which Farrar played a part. Chapter 4 explores letters and related documents in the Papers of the Central Mining and Investment Corporation (CMIC), with a specific focus on events both large and small, as events have been seen as a motor-force of change in some discussions. My investigation shows that there was a ‘quasi-figuration’ aspect to the CMIC, in taking on a figurational character in particular circumstances, and with a close association between the men involved around finance and business but not regarding matters of affect and political purpose. The activities and interactions of Randlords explored here include Julius Wernher, Alfred Beit, George Albu, Abe Bailey, Lionel Phillips and Jules Porgés. The men most closely associated with the CMIC can best be described as at basis an association with shared interests, although taking on figurational aspects in particular circumstances. More generally, my work on the CMIC papers shows there was a close association around finance and business but not regarding matters of affect and political purpose, suggesting that some associations do not quite become figurational apart from in specific circumstances and that the role of affect in changing the character of an association is an important although not the only factor in this. Chapter 5 focuses on the letters and related papers of Randlords present in the Milner Collection, and is particularly concerned with investigating communications between Milner and Cecil Rhodes, Julius Wernher, Percy Fitzpatrick, George Farrar, Alfred Beit and Nathaniel Rothschild. It shows that a number of figurations and quasi-figurations existed; and while at points these overlapped, they were still distinguishable, including a distinct Randlord figuration. Milner became an important figure within a number of them, and as a result often acted as bridge between finance interests and a particular brand of Imperial politics, as a symbolic figurehead for a local imperial project closely associated with him and his policies. While the figurations analysed are difficult to pin down, as there are often overlaps and intersections between them, my analysis has put considerable sociogenetic depth to figuration because, as Elias recommends, it has produced reality-congruent ‘real types’. Doing so has shown that what binds figurations together differs from case to case, they change over time as people join or leave the associational links, and that the shape of figurations also changes because having variable and sometimes conflicting cores and peripheries. The thesis concludes that the Randlords did influence social change in South Africa in the specific sense that for a period of time they dominated the diamond and then the gold industries. However, looking in detail at small events as well as large ones in many letter exchanges indicates that it is the long durée of change set in motion by diamonds and gold that had and continues to have the greater impact, rather than deliberate attempts to produce or control change.